It’s Day 59 and my body is still filled with anxiety and knots from various things going on. I’m settled into the house, but my mind is still unsettled. I feel like there’s all these things I’m forgetting to get done. So what better thing to do than to paint another abstract painting? 🙂 Join me in celebrating Robert Motherwell today!
Robert Motherwell (January 24, 1915 – July 16, 1991) was an American painter, printmaker, and editor. He was one of the youngest of the New York School (a phrase he coined), which also included Philip Guston, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko.
Robert Motherwell was born in Aberdeen, Washington on January 24, 1915, the first child of Robert Burns Motherwell II and Margaret Hogan Motherwell. The family later moved to San Francisco, where Motherwell’s father served as president of Wells Fargo Bank. Due to the artist’s asthmatic condition, Motherwell was reared largely on the Pacific Coast and spent most of his school years in California. There he developed a love for the broad spaces and bright colours that later emerged as essential characteristics of his abstract paintings (ultramarine blue of the sky and ochre yellow of Californian hills). His later concern with themes of mortality can likewise be traced to his frail health as a child.
Between 1932 and 1937, Motherwell briefly studied painting at California School
of Fine Arts, San Francisco and received a BA inphilosophy from Stanford University. At Stanford Motherwell was introduced to modernism through his extensive reading of symbolistliterature, especially Mallarmé, James Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe, and Octavio Paz. This passion stayed with Motherwell for the rest of his life and became a major theme of his later paintings and drawings.
At the age of 20 Motherwell traveled to Europe with his father and sister. They made a Grand Tour starting in Paris, then went to Amalfi, Italy; Switzerland; Germany; The Netherlands; and London; and ended in Motherwell, Scotland.
From Motherwell’s own words, the reason he went to Harvard was because he wanted to be a painter, while his father urged him to pursue a more secure career: “And finally after months of really a cold war he made a very generous agreement with me that if I would get a Ph.D. so that I would be equipped to teach in a college as an economic insurance, he would give me fifty dollars a week for the rest of my life to do whatever I wanted to do on the assumption that with fifty dollars I could not starve but it would be no inducement to last. So with that agreed on Harvard then—it was actually the last year—Harvard still had the best philosophy school in the world. And since I had taken my degree at Stanford in philosophy, and since he didn’t care what the Ph.D. was in, I went on to Harvard.”
At Harvard, Motherwell studied under Arthur Oncken Lovejoy and David Wite Prall; to research the writings of Eugène Delacroix he spent a year in Paris, where he met an American composerArthur Berger. In fact, it was Berger who advised Motherwell to continue his education at Columbia University, under Meyer Shapiro.
In 1940, Motherwell moved to New York to study at Columbia University, where he was encouraged by Meyer Schapiro to devote
himself to painting rather than scholarship. Shapiro introduced the young artist to a group of exiled Parisian Surrealists (Max Ernst, Duchamp, Masson) and arranged for Motherwell to study with Kurt Seligmann. The time that Motherwell spent with the Surrealists proved to be influential to his artistic process. After a 1941 voyage with Roberto Matta to Mexico—on a boat where he met Maria, an actress and his future wife—Motherwell decided to make painting his primary vocation. The sketches Motherwell made in Mexico later evolved into his first important paintings, such as Little Spanish Prison (1941), and Pancho Villa, Dead and Alive (1943) (both in MoMA collection).
It was Matta who introduced Motherwell to the concept of “automatic” drawings. The Surrealists often deployed the process of automatism, or abstract “automatic” doodling to tap into their unconscious. This concept had a lasting effect on Motherwell and on other American painters such as Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner and William Baziotes, whom he befriended in New York after a trip to Mexico.
Upon return from Mexico Motherwell spent time developing his creative principle based on automatism: “what I realized was that Americans potentially could paint like angels but that there was no creative principle around, so that everybody who liked modern art was copying it. Gorky was copying Picasso. Pollock was copying Picasso. De Kooning was copying Picasso. I mean I say this unqualifiedly. I was painting French intimate pictures or whatever. And all we needed was a creative principle, I mean something that would mobilize this capacity to paint in a creative way, and that’s what Europe had that we hadn’t had; we had always followed in their wake. And I thought of all the possibilities of free association—because I also had a psychoanalytic background and I understood the implications—might be the best chance to really make something entirely new which everybody agreed was the thing to do.”
Thus, in the early 1940s, Robert Motherwell played a significant role in laying the foundations for
the new movement of Abstract Expressionism (or the New York School): “Matta wanted to start a revolution, a movement, within Surrealism. He asked me to find some other American artists that would help start a new movement. It was then that Baziotes and I went to see Pollock and de Kooning and Hofmann and Kamrowski and Busa and several other people. And if we could come with something. Peggy Guggenheim who liked us said that she would put on a show of this new business. And so I went around explaining the theory of automatism to everybody because the only way that you could have a movement was that it had some common principle. It sort of all began that way.”
In 1942 Motherwell began to exhibit his work in New York and in 1944 he had his first one-man show at Peggy Guggenheim’s “Art of This Century” gallery; that same year the MoMA was the first museum to purchase one of his works. From the mid-1940s, Motherwell became the leading spokesman for avant-garde art in America. His circle came to include William Baziotes, David Hare, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko, with whom he eventually started the Subjects of the Artist School (1948–49). In 1949 Motherwell divorced Maria Emilia Ferreira y Moyeros and in 1950 he married Betty Little, with whom he had two daughters.
In 1948, he began to work with his celebrated Elegy to the Spanish Republic theme, which he continued to develop throughout his life. Motherwell intended his Elegies to the Spanish Republic (over 100 paintings, completed between 1948 and 1967) as a “lamentation or funeral song” after the Spanish Civil War. His recurring motif here is a rough black oval, repeated in varying sizes and degrees of compression and distortion. Instead of appearing as holes leading into a deeper space, these light-absorbent blots stand out against a ground of relatively even, predominantly white upright rectangles. They have various associations, but Motherwell himself related them to the display of the dead bull’s testicles in the Spanish bullfighting ring.
Throughout the 1950s Motherwell also taught painting at Hunter College in New York and at Black Mountain College in North
Carolina. Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg and Kenneth Nolandstudied under and were influenced by Motherwell. At this time, he was a prolific writer and lecturer, and in addition to directing the influential Documents of Modern Art Series, he edited The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, which was published in 1951.
From 1954 to 1958, during the break-up of his second marriage, he worked on a small series of paintings which incorporated the words Je t’aime, expressing his most intimate and private feelings. His collages began to incorporate material from his studio such as cigarette packets and labels becoming records of his daily life. He was married for the third time, from 1958 to 1971, to Helen Frankenthaler, a successful abstract painter.
On July 20, 1991, several hundred people attended a memorial service for Motherwell on the beach outside his Provincetown home. Among them were the writer Norman Mailer and the photographer Joel Meyerowitz, both Provincetown summer residents. Speakers included the poet Stanley Kunitz, who read a poem that was a favorite of Motherwell’s, William Butler Yeats’sSailing to Byzantium; Senator Howard M. Metzenbaum, Democrat of Ohio, an acquaintance of Motherwell’s; and other artists, friends, and family members.
Read the rest of his extensive biography at wikipedia.
Walk on a rainbow trail; walk on a trail of song, and all about you will be beauty. There is a way out of every dark mist, over a rainbow trail.
Motherwell’s type of abstract painting is something I can understand. I really enjoyed painting this piece this morning. I’d like to eventually try this on a huge canvas.
I hope you enjoy my piece. I think it turned out well. I will see you tomorrow…day 60! That means 60 paintings total so far. Only 305 to go. Whew.